Project details

Researcher: Professor Kaye Williams

Location: University of Manchester

Project title: Finding new ways to target the progression of secondary breast cancer

Key area: Secondary breast cancer

The challenge

Certain types of breast cancer can be more aggressive and are more likely to be resistant to conventional treatments. Those who have an aggressive form of the disease are at an increased risk of their cancer spreading. When breast cancer spreads, it can be controlled for a while but is sadly no longer curable. We urgently need to create novel drugs which have the potential to prevent and treat the spread of breast cancer.

The science behind the project

Prof Williams is studying two proteins called CXCR4 and CXCR7. Tumours which have larger amounts of these two proteins can be more aggressive, and this is particularly the case in people with triple negative breast cancer, a form of the disease which lacks targeted treatments.

Scientists have found that breast cancer cells can switch which of these two molecules they use to invade and grow. This means that drugs which only block one of these at a time may not be effective at controlling cancer. To overcome this, Prof Williams will use a new drug, developed by her colleague Prof Steve Archibald, which can block both proteins at the same time.

In this project, the team will take cancer cells donated by people with breast cancer, and will look at what effect blocking the proteins has on the ability of these cells to multiply and spread. They will also study the drug in mice to understand whether it can slow down the growth and spread of breast cancer.

Prof Williams’s team will also study whether this drug can improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy – treatments which harness the immune system to attack breast cancer.

What difference will this project make?

Prof Williams’ work will develop our understanding of how CXCR4 and CXCR7 can contribute to the spread of breast cancer. Her research will provide us with information about whether blocking these two proteins together could be used to treat breast cancer, either alone or in combination with immunotherapy. If this project is successful, the aim will be to test the drug in people with aggressive forms of breast cancer, in the hope that it may improve their chances of survival and help stop deaths from the disease.

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